Sword Art Online: Lost Song
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 11/17/2015
As someone familiar with the Sword Art Online anime, which I’m a fan of (in case that matters to anyone), I find it incredibly amusing that we’re continuing to make video games about anime about video games. I didn’t get the chance to play Hollow Fragment, so when I was able to pick this up for review, I jumped at the chance. Looking back, I probably should have played that game first, but not having played it didn’t really end up hindering my ability to get through Lost Song unscathed.
For those who have seen the anime, the games work on an alternate timeline: while it is true that there are 10,000 players stuck in a virtual reality MMORPG (VRMMORPG) called Sword Art Online (SAO) where dying in the game means you die in real life, in this timeline, instead of everyone getting logged out after Kirito defeated Heathcliff (the developer, Kayaba Akihiko) on the 75th floor, a glitch caused everyone to stay logged in until level 100 was beaten. The bad guy from season two makes an appearance in Hollow Fragment, and Gun Gale Online ends up not existing because Kirito never gets the Seed and thus never hosts it online for people to make their own VRMMORPGs. For those who haven’t watched the anime, the game does an okay job of explaining the backstory, though it’s probably not as in depth as it could have been. I’m actually not sure if the game is more confusing for people who have seen the anime and not played Hollow Fragment, or for people who haven’t seen/played either. Regardless, I ended up looking up the plot to Hollow Fragment just so I could understand what was going on, and I’m still not entirely sure why we know some people in the game (that we would have known in the anime) but don’t know others, or why these kids would be motivated to play in another VRMMORPG after what happened in Hollow Fragment, when at least in the anime, Kirito had a reason to jump back in (namely, saving his girlfriend, Asuna).
As to the plot of the game: Basically, Kirito is interested in playing ALfhiem Online, a VRMMORPG based on Norse mythology (something they bring up constantly) and fairies. The game has released its first expansion and no one has cleared it yet, so why not let a bunch of kids who should have PTSD over being trapped in a game where they were forced to kill people to survive play it? There are other reasons to do so, including a request from Kikuoka Seijirou, but it didn’t really make sense to me that all these people were so excited to go back into virtual reality after what they experienced, given this timeline. Regardless, Kirito and the others who were trapped in SAO are able to import their character stats and some of their items into ALfhiem Online, giving them an edge as they clear quests. Their band is simply a party, not a guild, but for all intents and purposes, they act like a guild. A rival guild, Shamrock, is led by–I kid you not–a 12-year-old pop star with a PhD. She is fairly weak, but her guild is huge, thanks to her idol status, and as such, they are able to clear quests quickly. You might think that Seven is the villain of the game, but really, she isn’t. In fact, there honestly isn’t any movement in the game: you simply want to try to get through the expansion faster than Shamrock. The plot only really gears up in intensity right before the last battle, and that battle is short lived. I never thought I’d say this, but I actually prefer the second season of SAO to this timeline.
Like the anime, Sword Art Online: Lost Song has its harem aspects, one of the things I like least about the series. I was totally happy to see a relationship blossom and actually stick in a series because most of the time, television shows stick with the “will they or won’t they” gimmick, but they weren’t happy to leave it at that, and basically every girl in the series wants Kirito. The other guys are kind of left hanging high and dry: Agil is fairly non-existent, other than as a shop owner, and Klein is used for comedic effect because well, who would be interested in a nice guy who is passionate about things when there’s a guy in an established relationship to fawn over? Regardless, this does give you a lot of female characters to play, which is a plus for those interested in such a thing. I ended up sticking with Kirito, using Asuna (who is a decent healer) and whoever was most relevant to my interests at the time (usually Rain) for my party members. With 19 characters comes much less time to really get to know everyone, and some of these characters get pretty much no backstory or anything, but we do get some quality time with favorites from SAO, like Lisbeth, Leafa, Asuna, and Silica. In general, sequences that don’t involve girls being mad at Kirito or frustrated that they can’t express their feelings toward him are pretty good. One backstory in particular was moving compared to the others, though fans of the anime are likely already familiar with Yuuki. Still, the relationships between characters are probably going to be lost on many of those who haven’t watched the anime. As a side note, you can also create your own character, but aside from getting the trophy for putting your own character in a party, there isn’t much point in making your own.
The game is voiced (with the exception of one quest, which might have been a bug), but unfortunately, all the voice acting is in Japanese. This fact doesn’t change gameplay except that instead of watching the game unfold, you’ll be doing a lot of reading. This is kind of annoying during boss fights, when you’re supposed to be focused on attacking people, but there’s white text at the bottom of the screen that they also want you to read. Further, there are a couple of animated song sequences (with no subtitles), which are pretty, but if you’re going to sell me on the idea of a 12-year-old pop star, the voice actress you use for a singer should probably also sound roughly 12 years old. Other than that, the voice acting seems to be pretty good. (I don’t speak Japanese, so I can’t fully speak to the quality there, but the emotions appear to map onto the statements presented in the text boxes.) The background music is rather enjoyable, and the songs specific to Seven are well composed and performed.
The graphics are decent, and I enjoyed the animated sequences and the illustrations (yes, even the fan service ones). The game switches between being a visual novel and third person One downside is that a lot of enemies are just re-skinned enemies from other areas; this is most noticeable if you bother doing side quests and when you face bosses, of which there a lot of. Before you get halfway through the game, you’ve seen pretty much all of the enemies with the exception of a couple of bosses, and you’ll continue to see them for the rest of the game: in the main story, side quests, and extra quests (extra boss quests, essentially). This not only makes it kind of boring, but also a lot easier than it should be, because your strategy for the dragons near the end of the game are likely going to be about the same as they are for the beginning of the game. You can fly, which is pretty cool, but it can make combat annoying thanks to the camera, which goes crazy at times. That said it’s a really simple, easy game, especially since most of the enemies just repeat in each area. I played on normal and died once, which was convenient since there was a trophy for it. Boss battles aren’t any more difficult; they just get longer as the game goes on. The final boss is actually shorter than some of the other bosses I battled, which I ended up being okay with given who the final boss is.
The trophies are obtainable in one playthrough; only one of them (Ki-bo’s a Playah!) might be missable. If you go into the shop to go to the festival with all the ladies present four times (one of those four times is after you beat the game), you’ll get it. Without really trying, I got 34 out of 43 trophies, and since there’s post-game material, there’s plenty of time to get the others, though some are fairly annoying to get (for example, one of them requires you to learn every possible Sword Skill, Magic Skill, and Special Skill for a single character, and another requires you to collect (and actually hold onto) 100 different weapons).
The game will likely not challenge you, but if you’re playing it more for the story, then that probably won’t bother you. I wasn’t entirely impressed with the story, especially near the end, but I like the characters enough and enjoyed flying around and defeating enemies that I will probably try to platinum this in what little spare time I have in the coming months. For those that would want to play this on New Game+, this could give you replay value if you’re just too bored with post-game content, and it is nice that they give you the option for multiplayer. When all is said and done, this game is nice for when you want to sit down and tune out, and is probably more enjoyable for fans of Sword Art Online.
Short Attention Span Summary
Sword Art Online: Lost Song is an enjoyable game if you’re a fan of the anime series who wants to just sit back and enjoy seeing your favorite SAO characters kill monsters in ALfhiem Online. The game is by no means difficult, and can get repetitive, both in combat situations and because a good number of the visual novel scenes deal with Kirito and a girl that likes him but can’t build up the courage to tell him how he feels, probably in part because he has a girlfriend already. Fans of the anime should realize this is on an alternate timeline that I end up liking less than the one in the anime, but it works for the world they have set up.